Scientists from the University of Sussex have designed a new protein which may give us a better understanding of why nerve cells die in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s already known that people with Alzheimer’s disease have an accumulation of sticky amyloid beta proteins which clump together to form fibrils within the brain. It’s this build-up that causes the brain cells to die, and which ultimately leads to cognitive decline. However, why this happens is still very much a mystery and, so far, researchers have been unable to establish whether the sticky clumps of amyloid-beta have different effects, compared to the individual proteins.
The new protein resembles amyloid-beta in size and shape
Now, by creating a new protein that’s similar in size and shape to amyloid-beta but which contains two different types of amino acids, the researchers have developed a protein that doesn’t form fibrils and which doesn’t damage the cells. This new protein will be used to help researchers understand more about the role played by amyloid beta in the disease, thus giving them useful insights into how it causes the nerve cells to die.
It’s hoped it can be used to find ways to stop the build-up of toxic amyloid-beta
While their study shows that it’s the accumulation of the protein into clumps that kills the cells, if the researchers can find a way to stop this from happening, it will slow down the symptoms of the disease. The researchers hope to use this ‘designer’ protein as a tool to help find a way to stop the accumulation of the amyloid beta protein and reverse the damaging effect of the toxic fibrils. If this is successful, it will mean that we are one step closer to finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s. The team from the University are now working with the Sussex Innovation Centre to identify possible commercial opportunities for the designer protein.
The results of their research was published in a recent edition of the online journal Scientific Reports.